The Long Goodbye is a tamer and subtler version of the Essex Green. The band’s first full length, Everything is Green, released on Kindercore in 1999, was a homage to albums of decades past, a blend of 1967’s best offerings strung together by the band’s own crafty flourishes. There are some real gems on The Long Goodbye, but it seems the Essex Green has lost some of its Essex Steam.
The band’s debut was a wonderful example of what Elephant 6 had to offer, mostly because it didn’t sound much like its peers in the now-defunct collective. Everything is Green is filled with charged pop songs, consistently melodic throughout, and even recalling the early Gibbs brothers at times. It hints at dreariness by way of occasional sullen vocals and quiet guitar. The Long Goodbye, released on Merge — singer/keyboardist Sasha Bell and guitarist Jeff Barron are also part of the Ladybug Transistor — moves significantly slower than its predecessor and draws from Everything‘s moodiness rather than its friction, with hooks that are less memorable this time around.
This is not to say that The Long Goodbye doesn’t boast beautiful moments, because it does. Some of those moments could easily be mistaken for something the Byrds ditched during the Notorious sessions, like “The Late Great Cassiopia.” But in the end, the conclusion is clear: the only thing the Byrds ditched was David Crosby.
“Cassiopia” is a hit. It sounds dusty, like a record that can only be found in a basement — slightly scratched with a faded sleeve. It’s indicative of the Essex Green’s winning formula: the song never quite breaks into chaos until the very end, and a fuzzed-out guitar line follows a sea of California-sounding harmonies and a faint organ. The pauses are perfectly placed, as the band nods back to the psychedelia that made its debut so strangely admirable. But the rest of The Long Goodbye doesn’t have this energy. For the most part, subsequent tracks — most a little choppy, neck deep in minor-key melancholy — don’t really stand out as “Cassiopia” does, except for “Southern States.”
The tempo of “Southern States” sways to and fro, picking up only slightly at the choruses, typical of the Essex Green’s restraint. Incidentally, Bell assumes most of the vocals on this record, whereas guitarist Chris Ziter was lead on the first LP. Recalling a little Lulu, Bell sounds confident but charmingly adolescent, too. She advises, “Leave your guilt at the Chinese laundry” in “Sorry River,” and offers another sing-along chorus suitable for grassy hillside barbecues.
But these sugary sweet moments are used as sparingly as sweets should be. The Essex Green is moving forward, but has channeled a newer and less active 1960s spirit on The Long Goodbye, leaving behind the thrills that permeate previous releases. Strong melodies and catchy choruses are again present, but you’ll have to sift through rather sleepy arrangements to find them.